John's Travel Journal




GETTING CAFFEINATED IN BHUTAN

January 25, 2017

While I was raised in Massachusetts, I now live mostly in Bhutan, the Switzerland sized Himalayan kingdom that is wedged between India and Tibet and home to 800,000 inhabitants. The feel and aesthetic of Bhutan could not be more different from that of Wayland, or any other place in the USA, but it’s an aesthetic so comfortable, that each time I ste...

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BOW AND ARROWS IN BHUTAN

January 18, 2017

  Most Bhutanese speak 3 languages. The official language (English), the national language (Dzongkha) and their mother language (most likely Scharchop or Nepali, though with 33 languages in Bhutan, one’s mother language could well be another tongue). Most also speak Hindi, as since television was introduced in 2000, In...

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HOT STUFF IN BHUTAN

January 04, 2017

What’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner? In Bhutan, for many it’s chilies and cheese and red rice. Bhutanese love these 3 and some eat to the exclusion of almost anything else. Bhutanese tell stories of their friends traveling outside Bhutan and bringing their own stash of this trio. True or not, it seems plausible. In my experience, a meal with Bhu...

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CHEESECAKE IN SHANGRI-LA, PART 1

December 12, 2016

Remember the 1978 Jimmy Buffet song, Cheeseburger in Paradise? He fantasizes about a cheeseburger while sailing in the Caribbean (which he likens to paradise), existing on canned food. Recently I had a vaguely parallel experience. I am able to spend a good amount of time in Bhutan, my own personal paradise.  I opened a cafe there 2 years ago w...

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CHEESECAKE IN SHANGRI-LA, PART 2

December 10, 2016

But there was one deficiency to Bhutan. A serious one: no good coffee. When a Bhutanese had a yen for a hot drink, the go to beverage is tea, black or with milk and spices, or an herbal version fortified with salt and butter (in Bhutan termed ‘suja’ though unfortunately usually rendered in English as butter tea, which does this broth like drink a d...

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WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?

July 13, 2016

It’s 3:00 a.m. and I’m awake. Not entirely sure why I cannot sleep, but think some of the reason is the 2 hour nap I took yesterday afternoon. And now that I’m awake I’m having trouble getting back to sleep at least in part by the chorus, not better call it the cacophony of dogs barking outside. This is a regular feature to the night sound scape of...

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TO BHUTAN WITH SANGAY

June 14, 2016

Another way too early wake up call, it’s only 3:00 a.m. and by 3:30 we’re speeding from Surawong Rd in downtown Bangkok to the airport. My experience with taxi drivers in Bangkok is that they always speed, though have to be on the highway for this to be noticeable. Though in the wee hours of the night the mostly empty city permit velocity on the su...

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SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE TO BHUTAN AND BACK

March 09, 2016

Unlike many residents of San Miguel whose status as retirees leaves them commute free, my commute involves flying to Asia, via Houston, Tokyo, and Bangkok. I work in Bhutan. Long commute, big carbon footprint, exceptional job. A common question: where is Bhutan? Between Tibet and India, in the Himalayas. In 1960 the king opened his iso...

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SAY BANANA

February 08, 2016

“Say banana,” says Dorji in the presence of his Bhutanese friends. I know I am being set up, and say the Dzongkha word for banana, to immediate peals of laughter from Dorji, and embarrassed smiles from his friends, too polite to burst their sides laughing as does Dorji. Until they see him laughing, then it’s just apparently too funny the way I misp...

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TWO BEER COUNTRY

December 28, 2015

Bhutan is a 2-beer country. But with 2 good beers, I suppose a person with a taste for beer need not complain. The original beer is Druk 1100, a hoppy ale type drink. It has a good beer taste, rich and satisfying on the palate, comes in a hefty liter size bottle and goes down easily. It is certainly Bhutan’s favorite beer, and when I’m in Bhutan it...

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SEDUCED BY A COUNTRY

December 10, 2015

I’ll admit it’s unusual, but have you ever flirted with a country? Been tempted to toss everything and start over, by a sovereign nation? Felt weak in the knees, butterflies in the stomach and knew that you were smitten, all by a place and not another person? In my case, the tiny seductress is the Kingdom of Bhutan, and she is now one of the most i...

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GETTING CAFFEINATED IN BHUTAN

December 02, 2015

Cappuccino arrived late in Bhutan. Then again so did pretty much everything else that we in the west take for granted. But real coffee, brewed from ground coffee beans was non-existent in the Kingdom until recently. Bhutan is a country where liquid nourishment, or pleasure came in just a few forms. Traditionally there was ara, brewed from rice or ...

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DRIVING TO PHUNTSOLING

November 22, 2015

If you did not know, you’d think the creature to be ill, and in need of veterinary attention. Now where does one find a vet that specializes in what looks like a dragon, here in the land of the thunder dragon, a country that’s short of both vets and actual dragons. But the creature in front of me clearly looks in need of attention, though I’m assur...

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AUSPICIOUS DAYS IN BHUTAN

July 19, 2013

I’ve never known a country whose holidays are so poetically named as in Bhutan. Blessed Rainy Day is my favorite, though yesterday was First Sermon of Lord Buddha, and just our good fortune my group and I were making our ascent to Tiger’s Next Monastery, the most sacred and iconic spot in Bhutan. Made sacred when Guru Rimpoche, (who is regarded as ...

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THIMPHU, BHUTAN

March 08, 2011

Bhutan being a Buddhist country where religion is taken seriously, one sees monasteries, temples, chortens, mani walls, prayer flags, wheels and drums across the country. The most ubiquitous of these are the chortens. Square structures, with proportions about twice as tall as wide, and with a sloped stone roof, the shape much like a cupola, can be ...

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BHUTAN, (NOT QUITE) THE KING AND I

March 03, 2011

Flight to Bhutan from Bangkok leaves at 7:00 a.m. Upon check we are told to be at gate early as it's a VIP flight, the king will be aboard. Of course we hastened to gate. Not until everyone else is seated did the king and his entourage of 16 board. In business class, how else does a king travel?, now that white steed pulled chariots no longer fast ...

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LUANG PRABANG, LAOS

February 28, 2011

The drums wake you up, it's a low percussive thumping sound, one drummer hitting one drum. Hear it for the first time and you'll recognize in it a powerful sound, yet one without menace. It's the monks from one of the 24 temples. Pass the temples during the day and you can see the monks hitting the drums. Not unlike wine barrels, but 3 times as lar...

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GOOD GOVERNANCE IN BHUTAN

December 14, 2010

Good governance is one of the 4 pillars of Gross National Happiness. GNH is now so firmly established and enshrined in Bhutanese society and politics that it could not be dismantled even if there were individuals who wanted to do so. The country has had 4 centuries of largely good governance, which can really be nothing more than a lucky fluke, but...

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THE PEOPLE OF BHUTAN

December 10, 2010

My third point about Bhutan.The people are simply put, amazing. However this really says nothing. One finds nice people all over the world. Though some cultures do seem to overflow with them, while others don't, I'm a firm believer in the decency of people and given half a chance it's not a difficult task to ferret out the good in people everywhere...

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BHUTAN IS SO APPEALING, EXPLAINED

December 10, 2010

Bhutan again for the 9th time. This country makes quick converts out of most all its visitors. I was smitten on my first visit, and in a sense the country changed my life, as I felt I had to return and the only easy way to do so was begin a business taking others here. Bhutan is very restrictive about who it allows in, and visitors need adhere to a...

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RETURN TO STANLEY

October 26, 2010

Second day on Carcass and the sun is shining, and the wind speed has diminished to gusty, which feels like a gentle breeze after the past few days. In front of the lodge is a white sandy beach, with water colored aqua and turquoise. Looks pretty, but it's frigid, and only once a year do Kelpers go in the water, June 21, midsummer day when they head...

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THE FALKLANDS WAR

October 25, 2010

One cannot visit the Falklands and be unaware of the war fought there in 1982. We have to back up a few centuries to understand this. Uninhabited islands, they were first sighted by the British in 1740. Yet no settlement was made. A French explorer, Louise-Antione de Bouganville arrived 24 years later with settlers from St. Malo, on the Brittany co...

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CARCASS ISLAND, FALKLANDS

October 25, 2010

The plane comes to get me after 2 nights on Sea Lion Island. I'm the only new passenger, and we fly to Saunders Island to let the others off. Then I'm able to take my preferred seat, beside the pilot. Best views from this seat, and with the headset, it's possible to have a conversation with the pilot. The wind is surprise, again blowing hard, and a...

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SEA LION ISLAND, FALKLAND ISLANDS

October 24, 2010

The hotel says driver will come pick me up at 7:45 for 8:00 flight. That's not how we do it at home, but when in Rome. And at 7:45 the taxi is there. Airport is 10 minutes away, so I'm there 5 minutes before flight. Tiny airstrip, it's the local Stanley airport. I have to put all my luggage on scale, and then stand on scale so they can get my weigh...

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THE FALKLAND ISLANDS

October 24, 2010

It took a war to put the Falkland Islands on the mental map of most people. The war was 28 years ago, but so little happens here otherwise, and it's such a remote place that the war is what figures in the minds of most if Falklands even crosses their minds. Of course I'm weird in this regard, and these tiny and isolated bits on the globe fascinate ...

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WAT PHU CHAMPASAK, SOUTHERN LAOS

October 18, 2010

The planes get ever smaller as I move through Laos, and the last looks like a toy plane on the runway. It's a MA 60, built in China and has wheels fastened not to the fuselage, but to the wings, of course they retract into the wings after take off, there's an odd tripod quality to it. Though the 70 minute flight is smooth. We land in Pakse, and fro...

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CHILIES AND CHEESE

July 15, 2010

Bhutan has no fast food and no chain restaurants. Many of our meals are taken in hotels, as often there is no other real option in a given area, with some of the hotels in remote locations. Some of the chefs have been sent abroad by the government, to learn how to cook for outsiders. At one point the government thought it necessary that someone in ...

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CATCHING A BUZZ IN BHUTAN

July 13, 2010

Biggest complaint about Bhutan? The coffee sucks. Many groups heed my warning and bring their own stash of good stuff from home. Filter paper and cone, only hot water needed. The ritual, so mundane at home always attracts the attention of the waiters, and with their curiosity aroused we offer them some. They react with the same shock as we do when ...

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PINATUBO

January 19, 2010

Richard's family consists of 6 sisters, their husbands and offspring. He requested a family trip while in the Philipines over Christmas and New Years. I selfishly monopolized him for a full week in Sangat Island, leaving limited time for other outings. The plan to visit another island was floated, but for this many people to agree on a place, get t...

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HOW I LEARNED TO TEXT

December 31, 2009

Soon as Richard and I pass through security at Manila airport I have to answer natures call. Some GI distress from India or my one night layover in Bangkok has followed me to the Philippines. So while I find the men's room, Richard searches for breakfast. Upon (finally) leaving the bathroom, I go in search of Richard. Not finding him in the restaur...

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TIGER TRACKS

December 29, 2009

Sunil and Babalu are determined to find me a tiger. There are 87 of them in Kaziranga, though remember this is 4 times the area of San Francisco, tigers are secretive and mostly nocturnal, and there's lots of forest in which they can hide. "I'll be fine without a tiger guys", I say. "No no, the tiger needs to see you, John", replies Babalu. Well, O...

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ROMEO & JULIET, THE INDIAN VERSION

December 24, 2009

The story holds that the girl Ranga fell in love with the boy Kazi, and their families did not approve. To protect their love, and avoid family opprobrium, they fled into the forest and were never seen again.. The locals took to calling the forest KAZIRANGA. Right now I'm at the edge of the same forest, about to climb atop an elephant. Nothing trag...

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DRIVING TO INDIA

December 21, 2009

Final day in Bhutan and we've a 7 hour drive ahead of us. Journey from Trashigang in the far east to Samdrup Jongkhar on the Indian border. The road weaves and loops across the mountains, elevation ranges from 3000 to 6000 feet. The air is warm and the vegetation at times verges on tropical, then switches back to temperate. Terrain as steep as alwa...

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AT THE CARWASH

December 17, 2009

Bhutanese have only been driving for 50 years, it's about exactly that along ago the first car made its appearance in Bhutan. They built the first road from the Indian border to Thimphu, making automobile travel possible. You meet people who tell when they glimpsed their first vehicle. And their reaction, often one of fright, thinking it some sort ...

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GOVERNMENT HAS A CAMPAIGN

December 14, 2009

The Bhutanese rulers have long been paternalistic. A king ruled until 2 years ago, he and his predecessors, unusual in a hereditary monarchy endeavored to do what was best for their subjects. (In nearby Nepal, former kings used to have their thrones set up cliff side while they watched people forced to jump to their deaths as amusement). Four years...

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RIDE OF A LIFETIME

December 11, 2009

In my previous visits to Bhutan I've come to know the west and central part of the country. We depart Bhumthang, into unknown (well, for me) territory. We have our longest drive, to the town of Mongar. 125 miles away by road, but only 40 miles as the crow flies. The trip will take 7 hours. The road for the most part follows the centuries old foot p...

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IN BHUTAN, SKATEBOARDING IS A CRIME

December 07, 2009

Driving the other day we see 2 boys on a home made skateboard, I remark to Dorji this is the first such one I've seen. Oh yes, he says, the government banned them a few years back as hazardous, citing accidents involving skateboarders and cars.Also banned, tobacco and plastic bags. In 2004 Bhutan became the first, and is still the only non smoking ...

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MAKE BELIEVE COUNTRY

December 05, 2009

Just a few weeks ago Dorji, my Bhutanese guide was traveling to London, and had to make connection in Munich. Immigration officer stopped him as she had never seen a Bhutanese passport nor heard of Bhutan, She thought he was traveling on a fake passport from some make believe country. It took some minutes to sort this out....

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BACK TO THE PROMISED LAND

November 29, 2009

OK, so God did not promise this bit of real estate to Abraham nor anyone else, and the only Jews here are a handful of tourists, and bibles, old or new testament are close to non existent. But at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, this is my Promised Land: Bhutan, pulls me like gravity, and here I am for my 6th visit....

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THE HUB CLUB

May 23, 2009

Dorji is our trusty guide, but when in Thimphu I suggest he spend the night with his family. My friend Rabten is in charge of the nights, the night guide I've christened him. He is 27 years old, and like any normal 20 something wants to step out in the evening. So he takes us to the hot spots in Thimphu. The dance clubs are, as the world over not h...

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THE REAL MAGIC KINGDOM

May 22, 2009

The new king of Bhutan was crowned last November. He is Jigme Namgyal Wangchuk the 27 year old son of the 4th king, but referred to by all as the 5th king. It's a young dynasty, only formed in 1907 when the leaders of the various districts in Bhutan thought a monarchy would suit them, so voted to decide who amongst them would be king. Each subseque...

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TRONGSA

May 20, 2009

Trongsa is the turn around point for this first trip, and by now the group has learned the drill. They are more than comfortable with Bhutan and the Bhutanese. The daily mantra "this is the best place yet" does not change, yet the place does. They're on vacation, though in fact it's a cultural tour (my description). And with a culture both inscruta...

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THE NATIONAL CREMATORIUM

May 05, 2009

While Bhutan is a poor country, one could be excused for not seeing this. A modest air of prosperity pervades the entire nation. What is all comes down to is a pretty fair and equal distribution of wealth. Combined with a government that actually tries to do well for its citizenry. What a concept. This includes cradle to grave benefits, free medica...

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BAD HABITS IN BHUTAN

April 30, 2009

This is the country where cigarettes and tobacco are illegal. Where crime is close to non existent, and where courtesy and friendliness seem to be epidemic. So what's not to like?For a visitor, the only bad habit seen is betel nut chewing. The seed of a palm tree, grown in India and imported by the truckload. The macadamia size seed is split in two...

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FALLING FOR BHUTAN

April 27, 2009

The Bhutan seduction is going as planned. My clients impressed and dazzled, but also a bit dazed with jet lag, lack of sleep and culture shock the first 2 days. By day three, as always they have a tenuous but growing understanding of the place, and end the day smitten with the country. I tell you, it's like new love, every time. The first night the...

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STATE OF EMERGENCY TO STATE OF BLISS

April 25, 2009

You wanna go to Bhutan, you pretty much have to go via Bangkok.Arrival in Bangkok coincided with the very planned Thai New Year, and unexpected street demonstrations against the government. Taxi got no closer than one block to hotel, streets closed for the revelers. This meant a short walk, though what amounted to sniper alley, as everyone was arme...

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